Colts hope converted linebackers flip switch on pass rushIn this Friday, July 27, 2018 photo, Indianapolis Colts linebacker Jabaal Sheard (93) warms up during practice at the NFL team's football training camp in Westfield, Ind. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
They worked on quick first steps, honing their swim and spin moves and, of course, getting re-acclimated with the three-point stance.
All three played the spot in college, left school with conference defensive player of the year awards, moved to linebacker in the NFL and now find themselves back in their old spots as the Indianapolis Colts make the switch from the 3-4 defensive front to the more traditional 4-3.
It's certainly taken some getting used to.
''When you're at linebacker, you think a lot more,'' said Simon, a six-year veteran who hasn't played defensive end since leaving Ohio State. ''You have to communicate a lot more and your vision has to open up a little bit. Here, with your hand in the dirt, it's a little more attack-oriented. Don't worry so much about what they're doing, just get up field and be disruptive.''
It sounds simple and that's by design.
But it may be the quickest fix to one of the Colts' biggest flaws - a lagging pass rush.
New defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus inherited a unit that produced only 25 sacks last season, second-worst in the league, and only 93 over the past three years.
The consensus among Eberflus, coach Frank Reich and general manager Chris Ballard was to bring back the defense Tony Dungy popularized in Tampa Bay and relied on as the Colts made their Super Bowl-winning run following the 2006 season.
So far, the transition has been relatively smooth as the first week of training camp draws to a close.
''It's an adjustment,'' Eberflus said. ''It's always about trying to put the best people on the field. Like I said, you get your athletic, speed players out there and we'll find those guys.''
Basham could be part of the solution.
Indy selected the former Ohio star and sack specialist in the third round of the 2017 draft and immediately plugged him at linebacker. Basham made slow, steady progress throughout the season but never really felt comfortable.
Since the switch back, the 6-foot-4, 266-pound Basham looks leaner, stronger and sounds more confident.
''After the draft last year, things were just like going every which way, trying to get settled, trying to establish a role on the team, trying to learn this whole new position that I've never played before in my career ever, really, besides high school - which doesn't count,'' he said. ''It was hectic for me last year, trying to find where I fit into the team and on the defense.''
The older guys seem to have embraced the transition, too.
At 6-2, 260 pounds, Simon appears undersized against some of the mammoth-sized offensive linemen. But he has impressed Eberflus during the first three days of training camp in Westfield, Indiana, a northern suburb of Indy, especially Saturday when the Colts practiced in pads for the first time.
''I would say in the limited time we've seen him in pads, I think his effort is good and he's a really smart player,'' Eberflus said.
Sheard has had a different experience.
He played his first two NFL seasons with Cleveland at end then moved to linebacker for the next two years. Indy signed Sheard in March 2017 to be a rush linebacker but now believe he's a better fit on the defensive line where he's getting some help from pass rushing consultant Robert Mathis, the Colts' career sacks leader and master of the spin move.
''You're getting after the quarterback and getting after the running back,'' Sheard said, explaining the philosophical principle Eberflus has adopted. ''For me, it's the consistency of defense in football.''
The first real test of the new system comes Aug. 9 at Seattle, but the Colts may not get their first real grades until the regular season opener Sept. 9 against Cincinnati.
But Eberflus is convinced his simpler system will work with the players he already has.
''It's always rush and cover,'' Eberflus said. ''You always want to build it on rush and cover for sure. When you have four guys humming, the ball comes out fast and then your athletic, speed players affect the pass.''
Notes: Andrew Luck worked out for the first half of practice before leaving the field. He was not scheduled to practice Saturday but is expected to throw in pads for the first time Sunday night. ... Defensive ends Anthony Johnson and Denico Autry both received medical attention on the field Saturday but were able to finish practice. ... Offensive lineman Jack Mewhort was one of several players who did not practice Saturday.
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